In the dead of night just a few hours after the eclipse, among the partially cloudy skies over Tokyo, a keen observer would have noted the black aircraft which lazily drifted over the horizon among the clouds. Though it flew in the air, its design was reminiscent of a Chinese Junk. Over what appeared to be a sail, emblazoned in bright gold:
The Takarabune entered a cloudy patch of sky and disappeared.
Inside the ship, cloaked in a misty darkness, save for the banks of computers, their screens glowing with a sickly green light. Several alien beings are at work, the light placing them in silhouette. At the bow of the ship sat a figure, his face masked by his crimson and gold robe.
"Daikokuten... Yebisu..." the figured choked out in a deathly voice.
At once two figures appeared from the mist. They appeared to be middle-aged men, not very tall and rather squat in shape. They were dressed in loose traveling kimono. Red oni masks covered their faces. The figure on the left had on a green cap and held a wooden mallet in his left hand. The one on the right carried a bamboo fishing pole in his right hand.
"Yes, my lord." The two figures kneeled, their heads bowed.
"It is time. You two have been chosen to begin our operations."
"Yes, my lord," the two figures said again, "The Number 6 and Number 7 Gods of Misfortune will not fail you!"
At the lord's nod, the two gods disappeared. The shrouded figure let out a slow, raspy laugh.
"Heh, heh, heh... You know not what awaits you, Serenity."
Chapter 2: Contact
It was late at night when Akane Tendo let out a yawn as she closed her textbook. She had finished reviewing the three chapters for her Psychology Course. Akane's room was mostly dark and her roommate at Tokyo Metropolitan University, Aki, was already asleep.
Her studies in Psychology and Education had jumped rather quickly in difficulty and she found herself with little time to do anything outside of class and her job as a kempo instructor at a local school. It was little more than glorified babysitting, teaching elementary schoolers basic forms and how to punch, kick, and block, but it was rewarding. However, the last time she had be able to see Ranma was during Golden Week and even then so much of the time was spent with her father and the Saotomes that she had barely spent any quiet time with Ranma by themselves. She had regretted it when she got back to her apartment in Hachioji.
Akane moved to turn off her desk lamp and go to bed herself when the phone rang. She picked it up.
"Hello?" she whispered.
"Akane!" Nabiki yelled.
"Sis? It's one in the morning!" She hissed. "Is everything okay?"
"Well... that depends on your definition of okay." she admitted.
Akane sighed. "What happened? Are Daddy and Uncle Saotome in jail again?"
"Not quite..." Nabiki hesitated as soft moaning could be heard in the background, "wait a sec, I think he's coming around... here ya go."
"Huh? Hello?" Akane asked.
"-kane?" Ranma said weakly.
Akane was only mildly surprised to hear Ranma's girl voice. "Ranma! Are you okay?" she asked.
"Dunno... I was standin' around, then the power went out and I felt so dizzy," she said dreamily. "I had the nicest dream. We were in a fancy hotel room and I ate a huuuge ice cream sundae and then I was touchin' your boobs. And then you touched mine. And then you poured your tea on me and touched my-"
"Put Nabiki on the phone."
"Uh, Akane?" Nabiki said.
"You called me in the middle of the night to tell me you got my boyfriend drunk," she stated flatly.
"No... It's not that. Not exactly. He needed the alcohol. Something happened to Ranma. He's not in a good way."
"Did he think he could down a fifth of whiskey again? Typical macho-"
"No! It's-" Nabiki tried to explain but she was interrupted by a loud wailing that Akane could hear over the phone line.
"Ahh! I miss my dick already..."
"Shit, he's trying to shower in his clothes again! I gotta go!" Nabiki said.
"Nabiki! Wait! What-" Akane pulled the phone away when she realized Nabiki had hung up.
"Something wrong, Akane?" Aki said, sleepily.
Akane shook her head. "No. My boyfriend, sh-he apparently, um, hit his head or something. My sister is watching him."
"Do you need to go see him?" Aki said.
Akane thought about it. It was late, and Nabiki's place was 50 kilometers away. Even if the trains were running, which they weren't, it'd take at least an hour and a half to get there. "I'm worried, but... no, Nabiki can take care of him if he needs it. I'll call in the morning to see how he is," she said.
"Okay. Well, g'night Akane," Aki said she rolled over.
"Night," Akane said. She turned off the desk lamp and got into bed, but she found it hard to get to sleep that night. She seriously considered changing into her gi and running over, but she shook her head.
"No, it's okay. Ranma just did something stupid. Whatever it is, Nabiki can take care of it," she said to herself, though it didn't reassure her as much as she wished.
Nabiki looked down at Ranma, who was splayed on the floor, groaning slightly in a repeat of events a few hours before. She gave the martial artist a kick. "Okay Saotome, snap out of it!"
Ranma turned her attention towards Nabiki. "Why should I? I'm fuckin' locked!"
"I think this is more serious than just your curse."
"What's more serious than that?" she asked vehemently. "Do you know how disgusting the hallway toilet is in my place? Barely tolerable standing, but now I gotta-"
"I don't even believe- did you even look at yourself? You were glowing! This isn't just some vindictive Chinese magic somebody hexed you with!"
Ranma blinked and sat up. She began patting her hands all over her body. From the sleeve of her shirt, she pulled out the wand.
"It was this piece of junk!" Ranma declared.
"Well obviously. You did something when you started talking. What did you say again?
"Hell if I know," Ranma spat out. "I just said the first thing that came ta mind. If I thought saying the secret word would lock my curse, I'd have taken up sign writing like Pops."
"Well I'd probably start thinking about what it was that came to mind and quickly," Nabiki said. "After you sober up, anyway."
Ranma stood up slowly, holding her head with one hand. "Dammit... Hey 'Biki, can I just crash here tonight? I'm too drunk to drive home and I- nevermind."
Nabiki looked at Ranma. "He may have a better poker face, but he's scared shitless." She thought. "Just so you know, I have a lecture at eight," Nabiki warned.
Ranma nodded as she tied her hair into a loose ponytail and flopped onto the couch. "Works for me. I gotta get up at seven. Got my Kinesiology Seminar, then work."
"Aren't we busy. What are you going to do about your little problem?"
Ranma grunted. "What about it? I ain't gonna solve it tonight. And 'sides, it ain't like a life or death secret or nothin'. Just a pain in my ass."
Nabiki looked at her sudden houseguest as she began snoring on her couch. After draping a blanket on Ranma, she went to bed.
It was early in the morning when Usagi woke up. She was disoriented, unsure where she was at first. As her eyes cleared she realized she was in her room. She found it somewhat funny that it had changed little since middle school, only the large numbers of photos of her friends, Mamoru, and Chibi-Usa really marking the passage of time. She saw a large photo of all of her friends, Naru and Umino included and smiled faintly.
She then recalled the events of the night before and the smile faded. She stayed in bed, trying to suss out everything that had happened, but everything felt unreal, as though she was waking up from a nightmare.
"Usagi?" a voice softly cried out. "Are you awake?"
The blonde teenager rolled over on her side and looked at the floor. She saw one of her best friends and advisor licking her right paw.
"Morning, Luna. I feel like I've slept for ages," Usagi said.
"Do you remember what happened last night?" Luna asked. Usagi felt her stomach drop.
"Sort of." She sat up and summoned the Ginzuishou. In her hand, the crystal shone brilliantly and she could feel her will and her life force flow between herself and the crystal. However, she felt that there was something different, something that wasn't present, yet deeply painful.
"We were fighting the youma. I tried to defeat them, but... when I was summoning my attack, I felt like there was a rubber band inside me that snapped."
"Have you tried becoming Sailor Moon since then?"
Usagi shook her head. "I'll try Luna."
She summoned the Holy Grail and held it in her hands as she closed her eyes. Usagi whispered:
"Silver Moon Crystal Power, Make Up."
Usagi wasn't surprised that she didn't change into her alter-ego, but she was left troubled. She could feel the magic welling up inside of her, but it was as if it had hit a wall in her heart. Or like she had taken a breath and all the air went into only one lung. Usagi felt the magic hang suspended until, nowhere to go, it dissipated back within her.
She laid back down in her bed and began weeping quietly.
Ranma wasn't so much hung over from the alcohol as she was from the reality of what happened finally dawning on her. A third shower in the morning still hadn't reversed the condition and, as much as she racked her brain, she couldn't remember what she had said that caused the problem in the first place.
Either way, when she left Nabiki's apartment, she got on her motorcycle and made a quick stop home to change into a fresh pair of jeans, a t-shirt and, since she would be female for the foreseeable future, a grey sports bra. She also picked up her school books and a few other documents before heading down to Setagaya Ward and the campus of her alma mater, Nippon Sports Science University.
NSSU wasn't a very large school in terms of its student population, but it was home to some of the finest athletes in the country. Counter to many Tokyo-area schools, the campus was wide and green with a large number of athletic fields, gymnasiums, and practice spaces for the various student-athletes the school admitted into their programs. Ranma herself had entered on a Martial Arts scholarship which, along with the possibility of majoring in Health Science along with Martial Arts, meant she had focused on school in a way she never had in high school.
After a quick stop to grab tea and onigiri from the student center, she made it to her 9AM seminar right on time. It was a medium-sized class for the school. There were about 25 students and the class was held in a small room with a podium and two whiteboards in the front and four rows of stadium-style seating. She sat as her usual spot, center in the second row. Ranma took copious notes. She noted the occasional stares from classmates who didn't know her from classes the previous year. It occurred to Ranma that the few times she had to come to class in cursed form she had sat all the way in the back of the room, more from being late than any sort of embarrassment. Still, aside from that it felt like any other day.
That illusion of normalcy, however, ended five minutes before the end of class when the professor stared at Ranma quizzically. He was a short, thin man in the latter part of middle age. Bald, he wore a cheap suit and had a habit of wiping his forehead with a handkerchief during his lectures. The man had taken to tenure with the same gusto as a prisoner embracing freedom. That is, he had run screaming from all of his obligations besides the minimum required to keep his job. Thus, he had been teaching this undergraduate course with all the enthusiasm and fervor of a comatose patient on auto-pilot.
It took Ranma scanning the room for other female students to realize it was her he was talking to. She looked at the middle-aged man. "Uh, yeah professor?"
"Are you in the Women's College?"
"Damn it." Ranma thought, realizing of course, those days were one in which she got caught in the rain. "Uh, no... Just a regular student, sir," she replied. She heard the soft laughter of a few students from her department.
Ranma cursed inwardly, hoping he wouldn't ask her her name. That wish granted, the Professor instead decided to rant at her, "I may not take attendance here, but I seriously doubt you will pass the final exam at the end of the month with that sort of record, Miss."
Ranma hung her head and nodded. "Yes, Professor."
Addressing the class as a whole once more, he said, "Well with that, good luck everyone."
Ranma sighed as she put her notebook away. "Damn it, gonna have to explain it to him. Idiot'd probably think I took the test for myself. Thank gods for Tofu," she thought as she patted her backpack.
"This sucks," Makoto said, as she pulled out a tuft of grass by the tree she and Minako were sitting at during lunch period the next day. Neither of the two were particularly hungry.
Senior Year had proven to be quieter and more lonely than it had been in years before when six of the senshi attended the school. With Haruka and Michiru and, later, Ami, graduating to college, it had gotten a smaller and quieter. With the absence of young Hotaru and, more crucially, the cheery, over-energetic Usagi, it felt like an especially lonely day at Juuban High.
"Any word from Ami?" Minako asked.
Makoto shook her head. "No. She said she was going to start an analysis of the readings soon, but she has a term paper for her seminar on Naturalist Literature, and final exams in her classes in Neuroanatomy, Discrete Mathematics, and Organic Chemistry."
"Those are actual subjects?" Minako asked.
"...right." Makoto said, "Did Usagi talk to you?"
Minako shook her head. "Luna called me. She's not feeling well. She isn't sick, just..." She frowned. "She's depressed."
"What do we do if Usagi can't... you know?" Makoto asked,
Minako replied bluntly, "We do what we've sworn to do. Protect the Queen at all costs."
"But those youma..." Makoto thought to herself as the bell for the next period rang.
A university library may, at first glance, appear to be a stifling work environment for someone as high energy as Ranma Saotome. Then again, this was the Nippon Sports Science University's Health Sciences library and, while most of the students were of human-proportioned strength and aggression, some rivaled the old Nerima gang in their strength, speed, and pig-headed stubbornness. During finals week, even that distinction was dropped as students would run around the building, using far more energy than was strictly necessary to chase down the correct textbook or journal article for a term paper.
This made the job more like bouncing than filing, which Ranma appreciated. The fact that, for a library, the staff was surprisingly athletic further added to the positive workplace chemistry. Ranma dug the combination of physically fit, active people who were also easy-going, laid back librarians. They were especially proud of the intramural softball championship trophy the library staff had held onto for almost a decade.
Of course, today would test that easy-going attitude as Ranma made her way behind the checkout desk and punched into work. She then headed back towards a small booth near the entrance of the library. She broke out a textbook and began reading, glancing up whenever someone entered or exited the building.
About an hour into her shift, the head librarian entered the building. He was a tall, leanly muscled man who looked more like a welterweight boxer than an accomplished researcher and archivist.
"Who are you? Where's Saotome?" the librarian asked.
"Um, I am Saotome, Dr. Yamada," Ranma replied.
"What are you talking about? Where's Saotome!"
Ranma reached into her duffel bag and pulled out a manila folder. She handed it to him.
"Here Boss. I don't really like ta talk about it, but this is from my doctor back home. You can call him or Coach Abe in the Martial Arts department. They'll vet me."
Dr. Yamada looked opened the folder and looked at the contents.
"Sudden Onset Chromosomal Shifting Disorder?" he muttered as he quickly scanned the pages of the document.
Ranma nodded, putting on her best pokerface. "Yeah... Had it for a while now. Usually it's okay, but sometimes I get stuck in one form or the other," she said, trying to appear casual.
"I take it this is one of those times?" he said, taking a breath..
"Yep. Dunno when I'll be fixed, but I hope it'll be soon."
"Hmm..." Dr. Yamada sounded dubious. "What floor do we stack oversized books?"
Without missing a beat, Ranma replied, "Trick question, Oversized books go on a side shelf near the elevator of whatever floor they're supposed to be in."
Dr. Yamada nodded. "Okay then. I'll give ol' Abe a call then. I take it you'd like me not to tell anyone?"
Ranma shrugged. "All my friends back home know about it, so it ain't exactly a secret, but I'd appreciate it if ya didn't blab it to just anybody, boss."
Dr. Yamada blinked, as if her reaction were stronger evidence than a folder or knowledge of library policy. "That's fair, Saotome." He handed the folder back to Ranma. "One issue though... You don't exactly project the certain 'strong-arm' image we like to see in our security detail."
"Well I ain't as strong as a girl, but I can still bench about..." Ranma strained in thought "What the hell is a number that won't scare the shit outta him?" she finally said, hesitantly "a hundred... eighty kilos?" Ranma walked towards a book cart by the checkout desk. She bent down and, with a hand, easily lifted the book cart and balanced it on a finger.
Dr. Yamada blinked, but nodded approvingly. "Okay, but how are you going to deal with-"
"It's Adenosine Triphosphate, Jun!" A young man yelled out suddenly from the study area. He was tall and rather thin
"Oh my god, Shuu! It's Adenosine Di-Phosphate! The cell needs to spend the phosphate group to do work!" The other young man was somewhat short, but much broader in stature.
"You're full of shit. I wrote it down on my notes here." Shuu said, pointed tapping on a notebook with his fingers. "ATP!"
"I swear Jun, if you say 'ADP' one more time, I'm gonna wring your neck."
Ranma grabbed the collar of Jun's shirt and pulled him up from his seat to eye level.
"There a problem here, gentlemen?" she asked coldly.
The two of them looked askance at Ranma, "Who the hell are you?"
"Library Staff. I'm required to ask politely that you please refrain from making noise. There are other patrons who would like to study for their exams."
"And what are you gonna do about it?"
Ranma let a feral smile slip, her teeth showing through her smirk. She always liked it when people thought they were making her job harder. She struck out with her left hand towards the table. With two fingers, she touched the notebook in question and said, "Bakusai Tenketsu." With a small pop, reminiscent of a bottle rocket, the notebook exploded into confetti. The two men's expression turned to ones of horror.
"Now take it outside or I'll do the same to the both of ya," she warned.
After Ranma escorted the two men out, she looked at Dr. Yamada and asked, "Good enough?"
"Good enough," Dr. Yamada noted, nodding approvingly. "Get back to work."
"Got it, boss," she nodded as she returned to her post.
Dr. Yamada looked up questioningly at the heavens as he sauntered to his office. "Good kid, just a little..." he muttered.
Ranma settled back into her work, keeping an eye on the now whisper quiet library. That is, until a tall, thin, black-haired young man walked up with what was meant to be a confident smile, but showed too much teeth. His hair seemed slicked back with a grease-like substrate and the black t-shirt he wore needed to be a size larger and less dandruff-covered than the one he was currently wearing.
"'Sup?" He asked. "Doing anything after your shift?"
Ranma fought the urge to maim him on the spot. She needed the paycheck, after all.
After school on Monday, Minako, Makoto, and Rei showed up to Usagi's door and rang the doorbell. As expected, Ikuko Tsukino opened the door.
"Oh, hi girls. Did you stop by to see Usagi?"
"Yes, Mrs. Tsukino," the three said in chorus.
"Oh, where is Ami?"
"She has a class lecture in the late afternoon," Makoto explained.
Ikuko nodded, with a slight frown. "Oh, that's too bad. Tokyo University must be very tiring for her."
"I think she's okay," Minako said as Ikuko led them up the stairs and into her daughter's room.
Inside, the three girls found Usagi reading, not her usual manga, but a textbook, reflecting her recent turn towards academics. Minako and Makoto stodd in front of Usagi's bed, while Rei grabbed her desk chair and sat down, legs crossed at the knee.
"How are you doing Usagi?" Makoto asked.
"I'm… I'm okay," she said hesitantly. "I was just more tired than I thought and I can tell Ms. Kanou that I was still not over my cold last week. But I'm really happy to see you guys!" she smiled.
"She said she was going to the command center with Artemis, but I bet the two of them are sleeping the afternoon away on Mina's bed," Usagi laughed nervously at her joke.
Rei cleared her throat, "Usagi. I know this is a tough question to ask, but… hell, I'm used to being the mean one. Can you change into Sailor Moon?"
Usagi froze, swallowing the lump forming in her throat. She shook her head. "I can feel the magic of the Ginzuishou, but… I couldn't do it."
Rei grimly nodded. Makoto sat down at Usagi's left and gave the smaller girl a big hug. Minako then sat down on Usagi's right and took her hand.
"Usagi. We're here for you 100 percent. We're your sworn protectors, but more than that, we're your friends."
Usagi nodded, leaning against Makoto's arms.
Minako grimaced before continuing. "Maybe, for now, it would be good if you stayed out of fighting until we can figure out what happened to you and who's behind it. It isn't safe to be in a fight without your powers."
Usagi nodded slowly, "Y-yeah. I don't want to slow everybody down."
Minako paled. "No, I mean... whoever did this may have stripped you of your power in order to draw you out. It's safer is you stay hidden until we have a better idea of what they want."
"You're Sailor Moon, but also, more importantly, you're the future Neo-Queen Serenity. We can't risk you getting in the crossfire for no good reason," Rei said, adding in a maternal voice, "You better stay safe, dumpling head. You hear me?"
Usagi noted Minako's face scruch up slightly and smiled. "Yes Rei," Usagi said, nodding. She looked around at the other three girls. "Thanks guys. I don't think I could be strong without you."
"You're important to the galaxy and the future, Usagi, but..." Makoto hugged her extra-tightly, "You're our best friend most of all. We will get through this."
Usagi tried to keep herself together, but couldn't help let out a few tears while her friends looked on.
It was the middle of the week when Ranma entered the gym, wearing a well-worn blue gi with 'NSSU Tae Kwon Do' embroidered on the back. She performed several leg and back stretches, since, not too dissimilar to Anything Goes, Tae Kwon Do utilized many kicks and some airborne maneuvers along with more traditional hand strikes, arm locks, and, rarely, weapon usage. She paid little mind to the other members of the team who kept their distance. Unlike them, Ranma never tried out for the team.
Instead she was brought in as a ringer the year before and had given the team a shot in the arm, enough to win the prefectural and national tournaments. Unfortunately, Ranma never developed the sort of rapport one gains by going through the same adversity together. Her coach and mentor, Coach Abe, said that if she had tried when she first got into school, she could probably make one of the two slots for the Olympics this year in Sydney. Ranma shrugged. At the time, she was more concerned in making sure she had enough money to make her way through school and to spend time with Akane. She had missed the chance to enter the various regional and national competitions needed to enter the Olympics this year. Frankly, even given the potential rewards (many of which Nabiki had enumerated) it just felt like too much trouble, especially when she was trying to figure out how to balance school, work, and life.
Ranma stopped her movement and bowed deeply when Coach Abe entered the room. He was a tall, almost as tall as Tatewaki was, and a very broad-shouldered man. His skinned was deeply tanned and his hair was cut military short, giving him a very imposing appearance enhanced by the clean, but long-used gi and black belt with five golden hash marks on one of the ends of it.
Upon seeing Ranma, he blinked and walked over. In a loud voice he said firmly, "What are you doing, Saotome? It's the Men's team practice today."
Ranma bowed, "Forgive me, sensei." She stood and looked up. "I got stuck like this yesterday."
"Remember when I told ya about my… 'problem'?" Ranma asked.
"Yes. All true martial artists' lives are fraught with peril…" he said sagely.
"Yeah, well... sometimes, I get stuck. Usually it's an enemy who wants to break my spirit or thinks I'm weaker as a woman, but this time, it just happened. I'm kinda at a loss at what to do for the moment."
Coach Abe nodded. "I see. Perilous indeed. Hmm..." Coach Abe thought, bringing his hand to his chin. "I can offer you a spot on the Women's team. It'll mean bumping Hasegawa, but you're too valuable to lose.
Ranma waved her hands. "I'd feel like a real heel benchin' somebody at the last minute, Coach. I can't do that!"
"But if you can't 'man up', Saotome, we can't use you," he said in a grave voice.
"But it don't affect my fightin'," Ranma argued, flexing a bicep. "I'll fight on the Men's team like this. I can kick their asses from here ta Seoul and back, even as a girl!"
Coach Abe shook his head and gave a pitying look at the redhead. "Look, Saotome. I like you and I know you've dealt with a lot of hardship in your life. Frankly, I'd give my left nut for an entire team of men like you, even with your condition. But I can't field you if you're stuck as a woman. Other teams won't take us seriously if it seems like we can't field a Men's team with…" he grimaced, "men."
Ranma, with all her strength, fought back the rage. Her mentor, the man she aspired to be, had effectively shut her out of the competition and maybe something more important. She swallowed slowly and took a few calming breaths.
"I get it, coach. I'll see if I can figure out how ta get back to the way I was, but until then, if it's for the good of the school, I understand."
The weathered man grunted in assent. "I'm real sorry about this. I'll keep in touch. You've done me enough favors the past year and half with the Judo, Kendo, and Tae Kwon Do teams. If you somehow get unstuck in the next month, let me know and I'll give the spot back to you immediately."
Ranma nodded. "'preciate it, Coach." She bowed once again. "If you'll excuse me."
Ranma left the gym and found a payphone. Reaching into her pockets, she dug out a hundred yen coin. She dialed the phone. After three rings, someone picked up the phone.
"Hello?" the voice asked.
"Hey, uh. Is Akane there?"
"No, this is her roommate. Akane is in class I think. Who may I ask is calling?"
"It's Ra-" Ranma paused. She realized that one she never showed up in Hachioji as a girl and two, Aki was a new roommate and had never met Ranma at all. She and Akane had meant to come up with a workaround, but life had gotten in the way and after the mess with her mother, Ranma had sworn off pseudonyms altogether as more trouble than they were worth. "I'll just call back later."
Ranma hung up the phone and slowly made her way back home.
It was early evening when Mousse finally came home. While it was a typical Tokyo summer - a hot, humid morass that was murder to his hair - it was all in all a very good day for the martial artist turned average citizen. He had gotten a very good score on his practice exam in juku. Some Americans he delivered pizza to gave him a tip which, not being groomed in the Japanese tradition of service industry ethics, he pocketed for his own use. Best of all, he received a gift from his girlfriend. He smiled at the thought of her long brown hair, her cheerful, pretty face, and her strength of character.
They met at a local juku just a few months ago in March. She was still in high school and he was effectively a ronin, having passed the National Exam that granted him high school equivalency the previous autumn. They had taken things slow at first since they were quite busy studying for university exams and working part-time (she worked nights at a bakery, he worked in pizza delivery and as a clerk in a convenience store). She was afraid of moving too fast, her first relationship having been emotionally painful. Naturally, he understood exactly what she meant and he agreed they needed to go slowly.
Still, they both found they had a lot in common. They both lived alone, so were independent and mature in a way many others of their age weren't. They liked to cook, though Mousse didn't have the space to do so regularly. They appreciated the value of an education, even if they were average students. They had similar tastes in movies: martial arts films and romances. They also had similar goals in life. She wanted to run a bakery and a florists' shop. Mousse wanted to start his own business using his knowledge of skills from working in the Nekohanten and Damino's. Most importantly, they both enjoyed Martial Arts, though she had professed she only saw it as a hobby. Mousse was glad. He didn't need to give his heart to someone who fought as a vocation. It hurt too much to know how much he lost himself chasing after Shampoo and her 'beat things up ask questions later' ethos.
Mousse stopped. He had a tendency to brood when the thought of Shampoo came up. Out of spite, it seemed, he had gotten a letter from Cologne via Kasumi. There wasn't much written, but instead, there were photos of Tarou and Shampoo's wedding celebration as well as an obviously pregnant Shampoo leaning against the arrogant bastard. Mousse had hoped to get some kind of karmic comeuppance, but Shampoo seemed positively ebullient and Tarou, beyond the bruises to his face almost certainly given by Cologne, seemed content. Contrary to expectation, Mousse's reaction had been relieved laughter. In retrospect, Mousse thought, that may have been the old ghoul's goal all along.
Mousse shook away the thoughts of the past and focused on the present. Or, more literally, the present he got from his girlfriend. A dozen cookies wrapped in a pink furoshiki cloth. Oatmeal raisin, his favorite. "Ranma might want some too. Haven't seen the bastard all week." Mousse stepped out of his apartment and walked next door. He saw the apartment door was unlocked and open slightly.
He knocked slowly on the door. "Yo, Saotome, you home?" He called out as he opened the door all the way. "Mako gave me some cookies and I thoug-oh jeez, what the fuck happened to you?"
Ranma was slumped on the floor, sitting on the floor, her head resting on her knees. An empty beer can lay next to her.
Ranma looked up. "Yo," she said in a weak voice. "Two things. One, I got locked again."
"Gods... I'm sorry, man."
"That ain't the worst part."
"What's worse than being locked?" Mousse shuddered at the memory of being locked himself on Mount Horai.
"You ever have every girl duck in Tokyo come after you askin' for a date?"
"Well, there was that one confused swan a while…" Mousse recalled before flushing in embarrassment. "Nevermind, I get it."
Suddenly, a tall, burly young man popped his head into the open door. He took a quick glance at Ranma, leering at her figure, before asking Mousse, "Hey Mousse. Who's the hot broad in Saotome's place?"
"Goddammit Ishigo, you know it's me," Ranma said.
"You finally decided to order in some Chinese, huh?" Ishigo said grinning, "I had a feelin' something was going on between you two."
Ranma rolled her eyes, though Mousse beat her to the response, "Look, Ranma's in trouble. He doesn't have time for jokes."
"What happened?" The nosy neighbor inquired.
Ranma shook her head. "Man… I'm tired of explainin' it. I explained it ta too many times already."
"Saotome's stuck like that for the foreseeable future, " Mousse supplied.
The apartment neighbor tried to comprehend the gravity of the situation at hand. "That sucks," he said. "So, does that mean you're available, Saotome, or does your girlfriend swing both ways?" he quipped.
Ishigo blinked and looked at the short redheaded girl who began to project her aura visibly, surrounding herself in a strange reddish glow.
"Hey Ishigo. Remember what I told ya the last time ya hit on me when I was a girl?" She gave Ishigo an evil-seeming grin as she smacked a fist against her open palm.
Ishigo gulped. Breathlessly, he replied, "Uh, um… 'That you'd break open the door to Apartment Five and turn my dick into-"
"Into hamburger, yes." Ranma nodded slowly. "Good memory."
Ishigo bowed deeply, "I'm just kidding. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Please don't hit me there! I don't know what I'd do without it."
Ranma sat with a thump. "Okay, Ishigo. I forgive ya." She began to declare, "Just remember that I, Ranma Saotome, boy or girl, only like the ladies. And even then just one lady is special ta me."
"Because being chased by four women once in your life was enough?" Mousse asked.
"Well that and 'cause Akane kicks like a mule," Ranma replied.
Rei, Makoto, and Minako stood outside the apartment with some amount of trepidation.
"Are you sure she's not just sleeping? Usagi seems to only want to sleep these days." Rei asked.
Makoto shook her head. "Rei! How can you say that about Usagi? She's... you haven't seen her the last few days. At least Luna and Artemis are watching over her. Ami though, she hasn't replied to any of our messages and Mina tried calling her, but nothing."
"Doesn't matter. We need to have a meeting about what happened to Usagi and the youma that attacked us on Sunday. It can't wait any longer. Not with Usagi like she is." Minako said, which prompted Makoto to nod sadly.
Rei knocked on the door. There was silence for about 10 seconds before the door slowly opened.
Ami Mizuno had seen better days. In some ways, she looked worse than after a night of battling criminals and youma. Her hair was tousled, the lack of proper brushing making it frizzy in the humidity of summer. Her eyes were bloodshot. She was dressed in pajama pants and a t-shirt and she smelled like she hadn't seen a shower in a while.
"Ami?" the three visitors asked.
Ami blinked and rubbed her red eyes. "Oh goodness, did I forget something? I'm sorry I'm having a rough week, Finals and all that." she looked behind her.
"Um…" Minako began. "We're sorry to bother you but…"
"We need to talk about Usagi," Rei said bluntly.
"And the youma that attacked us," Makoto added.
Ami stood frozen for a second, nodding slightly, as though the words were coming to her with a satellite delay. Finally she blinked, "Oh! Of course. Come in guys… I'm sorry the apartment is like this. My mother is understanding of the mess, thankfully."
Entering the apartment, they saw it was in something of a mess with textbooks and papers scattered on the carpet. It looked like everything was, at one point, neatly organized by subject and importance, but now it was a whirlwind of data. The kitchen seemed clean, though the trash was near overflowing with takeout boxes.
"I've been doing an analysis whenever I had a break from homework or exams. Unfortunately, that means it's cut into the time I normally use for personal errands like sleep and grooming."
"Tokyo University is a lot of work, huh?" Makoto asked.
Ami waved her hand. "It isn't so bad usually… the end of the semester is rather more difficult than I expected. College in general has been... an adjustment. I'm taking a diverse course load, so it feels like I have to shift gears too quickly and too often. Our new enemy is another stressor. I shudder to think how high my cortisol levels must be." She picked up the Mercury Computer from a table in the living room. Moving a stack of scratch paper aside she set it down and opened it
"I've been letting the computer run a script I coded earlier this week." She began typing a sequence into the computer "I unfortunately didn't record visual of what happened to Usagi, but I have ambient readings of energy." A visual graph the ebbed and flowed over time was displayed. "At some point, near eleven o'clock, there was a spike of Chaos energy, which somehow collided with Sailor Moon's Lunar Magic."
"You mean she was attacked?" Minako asked.
Ami shook her head, "No. At least not directly. If it was a direct attack, we would have noticed. It was more like Sailor Moon was engulfed by the energy spike and then both the Chaos and Lunar energy were gone."
"So the Chaos energy stripped her of her power?"
"I believe so, but it's only a hypothesis. I'd need more data to generate more sophisticated models in order to get a clearer picture." Ami said. Suddenly, she felt faint and slumped down on a chair.
"Ami?" Makoto asked, "How long have you've been at this? All of …this?" The tall girl gestured towards the whole of the living room.
Ami lolled her head to the side to read a clock on the wall which indicated the late afternoon hour. "Um... What day is today?"
"Friday," Rei replied.
"Then 57 hours and 23 minutes, give or take."
The three other girls' eyes widened. "Ami! That's enough." Minako exclaimed. "You're no good to us half-dead. When did you last eat?"
"Well I had tea with honey a few hours ago."
"When did you last eat for real?" Makoto asked.
"Thurs… day?" Ami said, somewhat bashfully.
"Okay, that settles it." Rei said. "Let's get you something to eat, okay?"
"But, my work-"
"Can wait!" Minako exclaimed. "Hey, why don't we try that burger place that just opened! Ami deserves some fries for all her trouble."
Makoto nodded. "Yeah." The tall girl helped Ami to her feet and the four of them left in search of fast food.
Inside a fluorescent lit, cheaply carpeted office, the two Gods of Misfortune Daikokuten and Yebisu stood behind a desk . In front of them were six humanoid youma. Their bodies misted over with dark energy, casting them in shadow save their blindingly white, sharp teeth. The largest of the six stood in the center.
"Do you understand the plan?" Yebisu asked.
"Yesss, my Lord Yebisu," a high-pitched hiss emanated from the tall youma, who led them.
"We need to amass control of human willpower in order to bring the Serenity out of hiding. When she arrives, destroy her."
"Yesss, my Lord Daikokuten."
"Well then. We expect a lot of... 'sales'. Steal their life energy, bring us the Serenity!"
The six youma saluted before changing their appearance to more human-like guises.
"Let's go. Order Up!" The lead youma yelled.
Ranma took a bite of her second oatmeal raisin cookie. "Thanks, man. Your girlfriend made them?" she asked, her mouth half-full. "You're a lucky dude."
"I thought Akane was getting better at cooking," Mousse asked.
Ranma snorted in laughter. "She is. I like her soup. But baking? Her cookies are like chewing on charcoal that tastes like old coins."
Mousse chuckled to himself before becoming serious. "So you have any idea how you got locked again?" he asked.
Ranma shook her head. "This ain't like the old ghoul or Herb or some other asshole came by and deliberately attacked me."
"So what happened?"
"I dunno. I was just helpin' Nabiki out with that stupid photoshoot. One moment I was stadin' around feelin' like a jackass in that Sailor Senja-er Senshi outfit. I was messing around with that wand-thing I showed ya." She pulled it out of her back pocket for emphasis. "Then it all went kinda blurry and I was glowing before I passed out again. When I woke up, I tried takin' a shower, but nothin'."
Mousse nodded. "You don't remember anything else?"
Ranma grimaced. "I…" She flopped back onto the bare tatami. "Man, I don't wanna talk about it anymore. Ya wanna play some Go?"
Minako and the others wandered to a shopping district just south of Azabu-Juuban. They stopped in front of a new restaurant, a blue banner announcing it's Grand Opening with the Words:
NOS BURGER GRAND OPENING SALE: 50% OFF ALL MENU ITEMS
"NOS Burger..." Ami read aloud slowly, perhaps a bit louder than she intended. "Interesting, if trademark infringing…"
"Well, it's cheap anyway," Rei added.
Inside, the restaurant seemed like most other fast food chains. To the back was the front counter, where people lined up to take orders. There were a series of tables and small booths. There were also stairs leading up to a mezzanine area with additional seating and a nice view of the street outside. Visually, the restaurant seemed to have a fairly large number of customers eating inside, though it was very quiet.
At the front counter, there were three employees. Two of the workers manned the registers. They appeared male and wore red polo shirts and matching visors, which covered their eyes when they looked down at the register. The third was behind them, taller and female in appearance. She wore a visor along with a microphone headset. They seemed oddly intimidating, even for urban fast-food employees. Their expressions were somewhere between jaded and outright hostile. There was a cacophony of sounds in the back kitchen, but whoever was back there wasn't visible.
"Can we eat upstairs?" Minako asked. The other girls quickly nodded and they found a small corner table upstairs, out of sight of the front counter. Ami slumped down onto a table, resting her head on folded arms. After the others put their things down, Makoto paused.
"Something doesn't feel right here…" she whispered.
Rei and Minako looked around. Ami let out a light snore.
"It's… it's too quiet," Makoto said.
"Look!" Rei pointed to a couple who had passed out on top of their shared basket of fries.
Minako peeked down at the register. She saw one of the counter workers smile. His teeth looked like razor-sharp fangs. She said, her voice becoming firm, "Okay, I think we have a problem."
The windows were opened and the drone of cicadas echoed loudly in the apartmentg as Ranma and Mousse sat on the tatami floor, a Go board and two bowls of white and black stones between them. Mousse took a sip from a small bottle of milk tea as he set down his fifteenth black tile.
"Ha. I have sente now, Ranma. Have fun with your gote."
Ranma sighed. "Damn. My head ain't in the game today I-" Ranma paused and looked up, suddenly altered. "Somethin' don't feel right..."
"You okay, Saotome?" Mousse asked, looking around the small room.
Ranma grabbed her temples in pain. There was an echo in her head of raspy laughter and a feeling of coldness. For just a moment, she felt faint and broke out in a cold sweat. She closed her eyes tight and shook her head. "No... something's happening..." She stuck a hand out and moved it about until it pointed northeast. "Whatever it is, it's that way! Come on, Mousse!"
Mousse pointed to himself. "Me? But-"
Ranma looked up at him, her body already in a combat stance and her hands balled into fists. "No buts! I don't know what it is, but it's bad and you're the only other martial artist here. Come on!"
Ranma ran towards her already open window and jumped out of it. She landed on the roof of the adjacent building and running afterwards.
"Hurry up!" she yelled.
"Dammit, I need my robe!" Mousse yelled out the window before running to his room.
Mousse landed just behind Ranma, next to a new restaurant. "NOS Burger?" He thought to himself. Mousse was dressed in his Amazon combat robes, supplemented by a pair of silver sport goggles, which wrapped around his eyes tightly.
"Glad to see you finally made it," Ranma quipped.
"You dick. I had to get my robe and take out my contacts because my eyes were starting to hurt." Mousse looked at the place in front of them once more. Doesn't look like anything is-"
Suddenly the glass doors of the entrance blew off in a shower of shards. Two civilians ran out into the street, screaming in terror.
"Holy shit!" Mousse said.
"I knew somethin' was going down. Come on, we gotta stop it!" Ranma yelled.
"What?" Ranma smirked as she looked up at the Hidden Weapons Master. She began dancing on her toes. "You ain't afraid of a little Nekohanten shuffle, are ya, duck boy? It'll be like old times."
Mousse raised his hands in a defensive stance. "I'm a bit rusty on that specific number, but I'm ready."
The two ran in to survey the mess. Chairs had been overturned and many customers had passed out on tables and in booths.
At the front register, still clad in red shirts, black trousers and red visors, the three youma were channeling energy from the unconscious customers.
"Gods..." Mousse muttered.
"I'm gettin' pretty hungry. Ain't you, Mousse?" Ranma said between gritted teeth. "Let's do this."
Upstairs, the four Senshi, still in their civilian identities had decided to act, even without Usagi present. Before they could transform, they saw a red-haired young woman run into the restaurant, trailed by a man in white robes and loose black hair.
"Hey, assholes!" Ranma screamed as she took a battle stance.
"What do you want, human?" The lead youma asked. It looked vaguely female, tall with a skinny build and long "hair" of dark energy put up into a ponytail. It had that a nametag that only read: Shift Manager.
Ranma waved to the unconscious patrons. "These poor bastards were just tryin' ta get a quick bite to eat! Sure they were prob'ly killin' themselves with saturated fat and refined sugars, but it filled a void in their empty, miserable lives. And you took that away from them. I can't forgive anybody who fucks with people's food!" As soon as Ranma finished the speech, she blinked.
"What the hell was that?" Mousse asked as an aside.
Ranma shook her head. "I dunno. It's like my mouth got away from me. I never want to do that again."
"Well, you got their attention at least," Mousse said. The youma began to fire blasts of energy. When he ducked, he called out, "Congratulations, you pissed off three demons."
"What can I say? I'm a people person," Ranma retorted as she backflipped high in the air, avoiding the attack. She turned in mid-air and threw her hands in front of her.
"Mouko Takabisha!" she cried out as a large ball of energy shot out of her hands.
Above the restaurant Minako whispered frantically to the others, "What the hell is she!"
Ami, pulled out the Mercury Computer and began typing frantically. "That was a huge spike in… life energy? No way. How could anyone weaponize it, without a medium with which to process it, like Beryl and the Shitennou?" she looked up and said frantically to the group, "I'll keep monitoring it."
Meanwhile Makoto was left speechless as she witnessed the two humans bob and weave around the youma's blasts of energy, while returning attacks of their own. The girl relied on bursts of bluish-white energy and aerial kicks, while the boy threw out hundreds of pounds of swords, knives, chains, maces, baseball bats, and, at one point, a white training potty.
"No way…" she whispered.
"What's wrong Mako-chan?" Rei asked.
"Can you sense it?" Makoto asked. "That looks like martial artist ki, Rei. My boyfriend's been teaching me to channel my ki, but… they're on a level I thought was impossible for regular people."
Rei blinked. She turned and looked at the girl closely, really looked. The redhead exclaimed "Kijin Raishuu Dan!" and Rei could see a buildup of… something around her hands, leaving and space of emptiness that, like a blade, cut through the front counter.
"Oh gods." Rei uttered in shock.
"Whatever it is, we've left them alone too long. Let's get to it," Minako said with a distinct finality as she pulled out her transformation wand.
"Venus Crystal Power, Make Up!"
The others followed suit.
"Mercury Crystal Power, Make Up!"
"Mars Crystal Power, Make Up!"
"Jupiter Crystal Power, Make Up!"
Ranma had been in fights that, in retrospect, were best classified as 'ridiculous wastes of time'. However, she was beginning to think her first major battle in Juuban against otherworldy creatures may set a new low. Granted, fighting in a restaurant was hardly new. Fighting in locations where food and drink were served was practically her specialty. Still, she didn't suspect a pitched battle at NOS Burger would be so deadly, even without eating the food.
It was novel to fight seemingly evil denizens of some eldritch world bent on taking over the world. Seeing the human-looking employees turn into demonic entities was actually pretty damn cool. That the youma had been disguised as fast-food employees, however, undercut that coolness greatly. Ranma almost pitied them. That is, until she dodged the 15th frozen beef patties thrown like a discus and the third wave of scalding hot, shuriken-like French fries. By that point the novelty had worn off and become full-fledged annoyance.
"I'm gonna need to speak to your manager, ugly!"
"I am the manager," the youma standing behind the two cashiers hurling food items growled.
"Well I'm gonna hafta complain to the owner when I'm done with you!" Ranma replied.
"Enough talk!" The monster gathered a mass of dark energy. "Order up! Bakudan Nuggets!"
A wave of formed, breaded, and fried chicken (made with all white meat) flew, bullet-like, from the kitchen and assaulted Ranma in the head, exploding with burning hot oil. The force of the blasts and the meaty shrapnel of said ordinance knocked her nearly senseless on the floor. She lifted her head up slowly, lolling from side to side.
"Can we get a salad next time, duck boy?"
Mousse brushed a stray piece of chicken from his robes. "I'll stay in next time. I'm wiped. Those damn things are draining my chi like crazy. Aren't they doing the same to you?"
Ranma shook her head. "I'm feelin 'it a little, but I think I'm okay."
"Well get up close. I'm going to need to keep my distance," Mousse implored.
"Order Up! Baconator Strike!"
From a chain made of lettuce, A large, mace-like hamburger, spiked with rashers of spiky bacon, slammed into Mousse, hitting hit on his side. He slowly stood, feeling nauseous and enervated by the grease and liquid cheese.
"Dammit, I hate cheese," he muttered before jumping back, avoiding a barrage of French fries that embedded themselves into the tile floor like shuriken.
"Do you want fries with that!" the monster hissed.
Mousse pulled out a set of knives. "I think I'm done with fried foods for a while!" He threw them out at the youma. One knife caught its shirt sleeve, trapping him against the counter. Throwing out a large mace attached to a chain, he scored a direct hit against the monster's skull.
"Guess I'm not hungry after all," he quipped.
Ranma meanwhile was dodging strikes from the second youma, who kept throwing razor sharp onion rings and even more exploding chicken nuggets at the red-haired martial artist.
"Set me up, duck boy!" Ranma cried out.
"Got it!" Mousse jumped high into the air of the restaurant, almost hitting his head on the high ceiling of the upper seating area.
"Mìjì Yīngzhuǎ Quán! Hawk's Talon!" Mousse cried out before diving and a youma, sharp emerging front the front of his shoes.
The youma ducked down as Ranma yelled, "Shish-kebab Attack!" and threw a leg up into the monster's torso.
"The customer is always right," Ranma quipped.
Ranma was surprised as her foot went through the creature, it's body slowly forming into dust. Ranma jumped back and shook her leg.
"You okay, man?" Ranma asked.
The Hidden Weapons Master took a knee and shook his head. "No. They're crazy strong. I feel myself getting tired just being too close. How are you not affected?" He wondered aloud as he looked up.
Suddenly, the lead youma slowly began to come to. Ranma took up a defensive stance when Mousse pointed back towards the kitchen. "There's four more where that one came from."
"Damn, we can't do it alone. Ucchan and 'natsu are too far away and the rest of the old gang are gods' only know where..."
As they tried to figure out a plan, a chorus of voices echoed behind them from upstairs.
"In the name of the Inner Planets, we will stop you!" A chorus of voices shouted. The two comparatively mundane martial artists looked back to see four women, each in similar outfits in blue, green, red, and orange. They stood on the railing of the mezzanine dining level.
The one in orange took the lead. "Food is supposed to nourish people, not weaken them!"
"Well... I mean it is a fast-food place," the senshi in red said.
"It's not the healthiest thing to eat, if you think about it," the green-clad one added.
"To be fair, "The one in blue interjected, "it's as much about frequency as anything else. Fast food every now and again isn't bad for you. And there are the emotional and social benefits to consider..."
The one in orange turned back and hissed, "I know I'm not Sailor Moon and that girl down there already gave a speech, but could you not undercut your leader in public!" She turned to look at the assembled demons who were pouring out the back to replace the fallen cashiers.
"In the name of Venus, the planet of Love and Justice, Sailor Venus and the other Senshi will punish you!"
The youma looked at each other.
"Order Up! Combo Meal Deal!" the lead youma screamed. The combined demons began flinging exploding hamburgers and chi-enhanced fried foods once more. The four senshi began flailing about wildly, dodging the weaponized fried food with some level of adroitmess, but unable to do much else.
Ranma blinked at the spectacle. "Wow..." was Mousse's only reply.
"I gotta do somethin'. I'm almost embarrassed for them." Ranma jumped back into the fray.
"Kachuu Tenshin Amaguriken Revised: Parlay du Foie Gras Strike!" She began to effortlessly pluck the literally fast food from their intended targets and into the mouths of the lead youma herself.
"Okay, if you girls got anythin' up your sleeves, now'd be a good time ta use it!" Ranma eked out, "trying not to lose her concentration.
Sailor Jupiter and Sailor Mars looked to each other and nodded.
"Jupiter Oak Evolution!"
Ranma and Mousse were awed by the display of raw magic. That is, until their restaurant experience reminded them that fire and electricity were being hurled at a place with open burners and hot grease
"Oh shit!" they cried out far too late. The back of the restaurant exploded in flames, the backdraft flinging the swinging kitchen doors open.
Ranma yelled, "Put it out! Put it out! Get a Fire Extinguisher and-"
Mercury, addled by lack of sleep and the assault of grease to her senses, had an idea. "Mercury Aqua Rhapsody!"
"What!? No!" Ranma and Mousse screamed out.
Sailor Mercury blinked, realizing her mistake, but it was too late. The torrent of water and ice blew into the kitchen. It look liked the fire was nearly out when a large chunk of ice that had formed in the air fell into the large vat of hot frying oil.
Almost instantly, the kitchen and, now, the dining area in front exploded in flames.
Ranma yelled, "Dammit! Get the civilians outta here!"
Ranma, Mousse, and the Sailor Senshi began hurriedly carrying the unconscious patrons out of the restaurant. Ranma herself struggled with a rather large gentleman who was easily four times her size, her arms just barely large enough to drag him outside by his forearm.
"Dammit. This guy a ex-sumo wrestler or somethin'?" she grunted as she carried him out.
Finally, after everyone human was accounted for. Ranma wiped the sweat from her brow only to be confronted by the four women.
"Okay. Who the hell are you?" The one in orange asked Ranma, looking down at the slightly smaller woman.
"Uh, I'm..." Ranma gulped. She was saved by the bell, or rather the siren, as the tell-tale wail of the Tokyo Police and Fire Departments became audible in the distance.
"Damn, the cops!" Ranma exclaimed. She turned back to Mousse, "We're outta here, duck boy!"
Mousse nodded. "Right." The two of them quickly turned away and jumped.
"Wait!" The Senshi cried out, to no avail. They looked blankly at the redhead and the black haired boy who seemingly flew up towards the roof of a low building towards the south.
"Damn it!" Mars exclaimed. "Get back here!"
While it was an impressive leap by normal human standards, by the time the Senshi made it to the roof where the strange red-haired girl and her bespectacled companion had gotten to, there was no sign of either of them.
Venus shook her head. "Damn. Any sign of them, Mecury?"
Mercury shook her head, "No… the area is too noisy with energy after… Darn it! I can't believe I was so stupid!" she scolded herself.
"Don't beat yourself up over it. The people are safe and that's what matters in the end," Venus assured Mercury. "Let's get out of here and regroup later."
As the Senshi departed back towards safety, Jupiter whispered to herself.
Inside the Takarabune, high above the skies of Tokyo. The dark, wizened lord raised his hand. In a flash of smoke and light, Daikokuten and Yebisu reappeared.
"The Serenity did not show," he uttered.
"Please forgive us, Lord. We thought our youma would draw her out."
"Her minions came as did those two… humans," he choked out.
"We're sorry Lord. There's no excuse for such failure. We will the locate the man and-"
"The male is of little concern!" the lord boomed. "The woman however… find her."
"Yes, my Lord."
"Do not fail me again Yebisu. Daikokuten."
"Yes, my Lord…" the two Gods of Misfortune nodded and disappeared.
"I will bring you out, Serenity..."
Ranma flopped down on the floor of her apartment, the action disrupting the stones of the forgotten game of Go. Mousse had left for the public bath to shower off the frying medium and wash the melted cheese from his hair. Looking up at the ceiling, she was processing the fight..
"Those were the Sailor Senshi, huh? Looked like a bunch of high-schoolers. Doubt any of 'em could take me in a fight… not that I wanna fight 'em," she muttered to herself. As green as they seemed to be tactically, they had good teamwork and combat discipline. They also seemed well-meaning, if somehow... off. Their appearance began the sense of buzzing Ranma had felt that night at Nabiki's and earlier in the evening to reappear, as though the back of her brain was itching.
Ranma let out a groan and pounded a fist into the tatami floor of her apartment, knocking the Go stones out of their containers. "Man, this sucks," she groaned. "Wish 'kane was-"
The phone rang. Ranma sat up and picked it up.
"'llo?" she asked.
"Akane?" she asked, her voice more desperate than she intended.
"There you are!" She said, her voice exasperated, but relieved. "I've been trying to get a hold of you all day! I know finals are pretty crazy for both of us, but I wanted to know how you were holding up. Are you okay?"
"I dunno..." Ranma admitted, "Nabiki told ya I got locked, right?"
"Yeah, she did. I talked to her earlier. Ranma I," she paused and recovered her composure, "I know this is tough for you, but I have faith you'll get through this, okay?" Akane tried to sound enthusiastic, but the tiredness in her voice was evident.
"Yeah. Thanks, 'kane. I 'preciate it," she said in a noncommittal fashion.
"How's everything else?" Akane asked.
Ranma weighed the question. "I guess things are all right. Work's okay… I-" She paused. "I kinda got benched from Tae Kwon Do team. They really only need me for the men's team and seein' that…" Ranma trailed off.
"I'm sorry Ranma. I really wish I could visit right now, but school and-"
"Can I tell ya somethin'?" Ranma asked.
"What is it?"
"I'm scared, tomboy." Ranma thought to herself. She tried to force those words out, but couldn't She prided herself for not just breaking down on the phone. She didn't want to worry her girlfriend any more than she already was.
"Nothin'. You're right. Just another day in the life of Ranma Saotome, huh?" she forced a laugh.
"I'll beat this, tomboy. Just you watch me," she said, summoning her usual bravado.
"Ranma…" Akane said, unsure how to react to the more obvious than usual attempt by her currently female boyfriend.
"Hey, uh. I should hit the hay. Long day tomorrow and all."
"As soon as I finish what I need to do here, I want to see you," Akane said.
"Yeah, that'd be good." Ranma felt her chest tighten. "I can't wait. I, uh, I miss ya lots." Ranma felt an awkward pause. "Well... night, 'kane."
"Goodight Ranma. Take care of yourself," Akane replied before hanging up the phone.
Ranma stood and cleaned the apartment before rolling out her futon and lied down. She tried to sleep, but after an hour, the heat and her unease she sat up. She put on her motorcyle gear, though opting for an open-face helmet instead of her regular black full-face one. She tightened the belt of her pants and the strap under her helmet extra tight and got on her motorcycle.
As she drove down the mostly quiet streets of southeast Tokyo, she would gaze up at the sky. Cutting through the clouds and light pollution, Ranma could see the waning moon in her vision. The night sky was a comforting presence, from the time she was a small child. However the moon seemed to loom large over her, as though it was bearing down on her, simultaneously judging her and calling out to her.
With a loud rev of her engine she sped down highway 6 north and Away from Tokyo. Before she even realized it, she had made it out to Lake Teganuma in Chiba Prefecture. She found a mostly isolated patch of grass on the Western side of the lake, set her bike on its kickstand and walked out to the edge of the water, sitting in a field of reeds and tall grasses. She could faintly hear crickets and see fireflies in the distance.
She sat staring at the water, seeing the moon's light reflected in the still water. She pulled out the wand and held it in a gloved hand, staring at it, trying desperately to divine any significance from its presence. She couldn't help but notice the jewel at the base of the crescent moon seem to reflect the silvery light brightly. The light felt so alien, not of this world and yet so familiar, like she was being held tightly. It took great effort not to be drawn into it and Ranma, in her fatigue didn't fight as hard as she could have. She felt enveloped by the light and, in her mind she felt an unfamiliar comfort. It was at once a tight embrace, yet open enough that if she wanted to go, it was okay. It was like a childhood she never had, a lover's embrace that was unlike the dynamic she had with Akane. It was warm, though not a human warmth. More like the Sun had heated it and, in the light of the moon, the ebbing heat was like a blanket.
Before Ranma even realized it, the sun began to appear behind the reeds and the electrical towers, knocking her out of her trance. After some time to regain her bearings, Ranma finally stood and headed back to Tokyo.
"What the hell have I gotten myself into now?" she thought to herself. She never noticed the lone fisherman on the other side of the lake.
All right. Here we go. The plot is afoot. Next chapter will probably be a bit short since it's more setup for the big confrontation between Ranma, the Senshi, and our named villains. No timetable as of yet, though.
First of all, I want to thank everyone who has read and reviewed this little story of mine. I've gotten feedback from author's whose work I greatly admire and it definitely sets the bar rather high for me. I hope I won't disappoint too badly XD.
As always, thanks to frice2000, khammel, and others at fukufics for tightening plot elements and characters up. Special thanks to my writing bff Unsurpassed Travesty who is the sweetest friend an anxious old fangirl like me can have.
Aside from my own work, please Check out Prodigal Daughter and Creatures of Habit, two stories I've co-written with Unsurpassed Travesty which are in various states of progress.
The first draft of Chapter Three is nearing completion. Next Time: Mamoru checks in, Ranma runs into an old frenemy, Usagi meets a kindred spirit, Makoto and Mousse reenact the plot of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and the Gods of Misfortune track their prey.